When Does Breast Milk Come In?
You may have heard it said that breast milk “comes in” 3 days after a baby’s birth. While there is some truth to this saying, it can be misleading.
The first milk
It is true that breast milk tends to increase in volume around the 3rd day of baby’s life, but women have milk right from the time baby is born. The first milk looks nothing like what we expect milk to look like; it is a thick sticky golden fluid called colostrum. This milk is very important for baby’s health. It has infection fighting properties that “paint” baby’s digestive tract, providing protection against infection.
This first milk (colostrum) is produced in small volumes, perfect for a newborn’s stomach size. Babies feed very frequently, especially when they are 24 – 48 hours old. Please don’t mistake baby’s frequent feeds and mom’s soft breasts as indicators of not having enough milk. Baby is taking in what he needs. The frequent feeds signal mother’s body to begin making a greater volume. It is important not to interfere with this natural process.
If formula is unnecessarily given during this window of time, it can delay the next feeding. Less stimulation of the breasts makes a woman’s body think she doesn’t need as much milk. See the pattern that can occur?
Increased volume of milk
Around 72 hours after birth, women’s breasts begin to feel heavier. The milk changes to a whitish color and she will begin to hear baby swallowing.
If mother has had a c-section or has been separated from her baby, it is not unusual for this fullness to be delayed for an additional 24 hours. In some cases, it can be delayed even longer. Please consult and IBCLC for help if this is your situation.
Making enough milk?
When babies are allowed unrestricted access to their mother’s breasts, it is rare for the mother not to make enough milk.
It is common, however, to for a mother to FEEL she doesn’t have enough milk. A recent study found that 41% of women were worried about their milk supply on the 3rd day after birth. Concern about milk supply is the top reason women stop breastfeeding.
How many women cannot physically make enough milk for their baby? Sources vary, but it is somewhere between 1% and less than 5%. That means that over 95% of women are able to make enough for their baby!
Many cases of low milk supply occur because of interference with the natural process of breastfeeding. Early introduction of formula, using a pacifier or delaying feeds can have a negative impact.
To learn more about how to tell your baby is getting enough milk, see this post.
If you are a new mother, please trust your body’s ability to provide milk for your new baby. After all, your body did a great job of making this baby, didn’t it?
About the authors:
Cindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.